Ecological Citizenship and Green Burial in China


In 2012, China officially declared, as a national strategy of governance, the development of ecological consciousness, the promotion of what has been called “eco-civilization,” and the development of “ecological citizens.” In this paper, we argue that the concept of green burial reflects a number of the values underlying “eco-civilization” and ecological citizenship: respect for nature, respect for humanity, and the ecologically-sensitive rational awareness of the “harmony between nature (天 = Tien) and humanity (人 = Ren), as in the saying “天人合一” Tian Ren He Yi = “Nature and human beings combine into an integral whole”). The practice of green burial can play a valuable role in promoting the construction of an eco-civilization, although many people in China—and elsewhere—may be reluctant to accept it. One reason for this may be that the concept and practice of green burial are so new that it does not yet have a place in the ecological awareness of China’s citizens, who are the main subjects of the construction of eco-civilization. In our view, it is necessary to increase citizen awareness of green burials and their value, and to encourage people to participate in the practice. This is a reflection of the values that underlie ecological citizenship, but also serves to promote these values. While our proposal in this paper is to argue for green burial as an element in realizing this model of “eco-civilization” in China, its relevance clearly extends beyond the Chinese context.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Beginning in 2007, at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, and reiterated at the 18th National Congress in 2012, the Chinese government has "elevated ecological civilization as a political outline and national strategy of governance" (Zhang 2015). At the 18th Congress, it promoted what has been called ‘five-in-one’—that is, that five forms of construction (economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological), holistically united, are necessary to modernize China and promote “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The fifth ‘element’, ecological construction, aims at improving the relation between the Chinese people and nature on the basis of sustainable development. This is sometimes also called “eco-civilization”.

  2. 2.

    The term “ecological citizenship” has come to be used in Western academia since the 1990s, meaning that citizens with ecological awareness must seek to respect the integrity of nature and maintain the ecological environment when carrying out their daily activities (Smith 1998).

  3. 3.

    See, for example, Green is Gold: The Strategy and Actions of China’s Ecological Civilization, United Nations Environment Programme (2016).

  4. 4.

    There is also the instrumental ‘ecological value’ of natural eco systems, in terms of the benefits of “the space. water, minerals, biota,” and related factors that “support native life forms.” See: Cordell et al. (2005).

  5. 5.

    See, for example, Xú (2014).

  6. 6.

    There is another method that is relevant, but that is very rarely adverted to in China. This is the method of “emulsification” or “resomation,” that is regarded by some as an even more ecologically harmonious method. See Briggs (2011).

  7. 7.

    For another example of an application of this principle to ecology, see Tilt (2014), p. 45.

  8. 8.

    The original text reads: “用其謀, 厚葬久喪實不可以富貧眾寡, 定危理亂乎, 此非仁非義,非孝子之事也, 為人謀者不可不沮也。2仁者將求除之天下, 相廢而使人非之, 終身勿為。(see Mozi 2016).

  9. 9.

    “Beijing Municipal Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security and Bureau of Statistics Saturday released that the average annual salary of employees in Beijing is 69,521 yuan ($11,130 USD) in 2013”. See China Radio International (2014). For the cost of funeral expenses in China, see Bezanilla (2015).

  10. 10.

    This data comes from a report from the Suzhou Municipal Environmental Protection Department, "2014 Annual State of the Environment in Suzhou City", reported by Suzhou City News (2015).

  11. 11.

    Suzhou City (2012). To appreciate the financial commitment, note that the average middle class annual income in Beijing in 2010, for example, was 69,000 Chinese yuan (approximately $11,130 US). See China Radio International (2014) and China Daily (2010).


  1. Bezanilla, A. (2015). How much does it cost to die in cities around the world? In Hopes and fears, June 10, 2015. Accessed September 12, 2016.

  2. Briggs, B. (2011) When you are dying for a lower carbon footprint. NBC News Jan 8, 2011. Accessed September 12, 2016.

  3. China Radio International (English Service). (2014). Average annual salary in Beijing: 69,000 Yuan. June 8, 2014. Accessed September 12, 2016.

  4. Cordell, H. K., Murphy, D., Riitters, K. H., & Harvard, J. E., III. (2005). The natural ecological value of wilderness. In H. K. Cordell, J. K. Bergstrom, & J. M. Bowker (Eds.), The multiple values of wilderness (pp. 205–249). State College, PA: Venture Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Cultural China (2014). Traditional Chinese funeral arrangements, at Cultural China. Accessed September 12, 2016.

  6. China Daily. (2010). Beijing’s middle class expands to 5.4 million. In: China Daily, July 19, 2010. Accessed September 12, 2016.

  7. Deng, H. J. (2013). Luxuriant burials and economic funerals: the study of formal sociology on green funerals. [跨越厚葬与薄葬:绿色殡葬的形式社会学研究.]. Academic Journal of Zhongzhou [中州学刊,], 12 [in Chinese].

  8. Department of Civil Affairs, Guangdong Province. (2016). Guangdong implementation of “Evergreen Program”. Accessed March 15, 2016 [in Chinese].

  9. Harris, Mark. (2007). Grave matters: A journey through the modern funeral industry to a natural way of burial. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Hobbes, T. (1651/1909). In W. G. Pogson Smith (Eds.), Hobbes’ Leviathan. Reprinted from the edition of 1651, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  11. Jochim, C. (2003). Chinese beliefs. In: Kastenbaum, R (Ed.), Macmillan encyclopedia of death and dying. New York: Macmillan.

  12. Joyce, K. (2009). Green Burials. In C. Bryant & Dennis Peck (Eds.), The encyclopedia of death and the human experience (pp. 527–529). California: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Liu, G. D., & Lin, Y. L. (2013). The influence of the paradigm of consumerism on the construction of ecological civilization in China and its response [消费主义范式对中国生态文明建设的影响及其应对]. Frontier, 7 [in Chinese].

  14. Lu, S. Y. (2006). Nature and humanity [自然与人文]. Shanghai: Academia Press. [in Chinese].

    Google Scholar 

  15. Lu, L. G. (2011). The awakening of ideas about ecological ethics and the predicament of the current construction of Chinese ecological civilization [生态伦理思想的觉醒与当前中国生态文明建设的困境]. Journal of Xi’an Jiaotong University (Social Sciences), 1 [in Chinese].

  16. Marcuse, H. (1964). One-dimensional man: Studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Boston: Beacon.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Mozi (2016). Simplicity in funerals. Tr. W.P. Mei Accessed March 15, 2016.

  18. National Bureau of Statistics of China (2016). Statistical Communiqué of the People’s Republic of China on the 2015 National Economic and Social Development National Bureau of Statistics of China 29 Febuary, 2016. Accessed September 12, 2016.

  19. Smith, M. J. (1998). Ecologism: Towards ecological citizenship. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Sun, J. (孙佳慧). (2016). High price to die. In The World of Chinese, Tuesday, August 16, 2016.

  21. Suzhou City. (2012). The measures for the implementation of green burial practice in the Urban District of Suzhou [in Chinese].

  22. Suzhou City News. (2015). Suzhou Municipal Environmental Protection Department, “2014 Annual State of the Environment in Suzhou City” Accessed September 12, 2016.

  23. Tilt, B. (2014). Dams and development in China: The moral economy of water and power. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. United Nations. (2016). Agenda 21: Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform [United Nations Conference on Environment & Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3 to 14 June 1992]. Accessed March 15, 2016.

  25. United Nations Environment Programme (2016). Green is gold: The strategy and actions of China’s ecological civilization. Accessed September 12, 2016.

  26. Xú, Z. [徐梓淇] (2014). Ecological Citizens [生態公民], Jiangsu People’s Publishing House [江蘇人民出版社] [in Chinese].

  27. Yu, M. C. (2004). Environmental ethics [环境伦理学]. Beijing: Higher Education Press. [in Chinese].

    Google Scholar 

  28. Yu, M. C. (2009). From ecological ethic to an ecological civilization [从生态伦理到生态文明]. Marxism & Reality, 2 [in Chinese].

  29. Zeng, N. (2015). The concept of ecological citizenship and its cultivation [生态公民的内涵及其培育]. Journal of Educational Studies, 3 [in Chinese].

  30. Zeng, C., & Lin, Y. L. (2015). Fostering value education and civic awareness from the perspective of grassroots media [草根媒体视阈下的价值观教育与公民意识培育]. Journal of Changzhou University (Social Science Edition), 16(3), 29–32. [in Chinese].

    Google Scholar 

  31. Zhang, C. (2015). China’s New Blueprint for an ‘Ecological Civilization’: China wants local officials to stop ignoring the environment in favor of the economy. The Diplomat, September 30, 2015

Download references


The authors are grateful for the financial support from the National Social Science Fund (No. 13BZZ045), from the 2016 Annual Academic Innovation Program for Graduate Students in Jiangsu Province (KYLX16-0405), and from the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (No. AE15002_09).

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to William Sweet.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zeng, C., Sweet, W. & Cheng, Q. Ecological Citizenship and Green Burial in China. J Agric Environ Ethics 29, 985–1001 (2016).

Download citation


  • Green burial
  • Eco-civilization
  • Ecological citizenship
  • Harmony